June 13, 2024

Give every student access to computer-science education

Despite Washington’s status as a technology hub, more than 40{18fa003f91e59da06650ea58ab756635467abbb80a253ef708fe12b10efb8add} of the state’s public K-12 school districts didn’t offer a single class in computer science, according to recent data.

That’s abysmal. Not every young Washingtonian will want to grow up to work in computer-related industries, but each student should have the opportunity to explore these in-demand and lucrative careers.

State Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee Chairwoman Sen. Lisa Wellman, D-Mercer Island, has her eyes on the problem, recently telling editorial board members she wants to ensure all students have access to more rigorous computer-science curriculum, developed with industry input.

More than 14,000 information and communications technology companies have operations in Washington, according to the state Department of Commerce. The sector includes tiny startups, titans like Google and Facebook and homegrown companies like Microsoft, Amazon and Tableau.

But only around 30,600, or just under 9{18fa003f91e59da06650ea58ab756635467abbb80a253ef708fe12b10efb8add}, of the state’s high school students were enrolled in computer science courses during the 2019-20 school year, according to a 2021 report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Of that number, only 25{18fa003f91e59da06650ea58ab756635467abbb80a253ef708fe12b10efb8add} were female. Also underrepresented were students with disabilities, English language learners and students living in poverty.

OSPI officials counted a total of only 728 computer-science courses across 335 high schools in 169 districts. They also found that the teachers of these courses tended to be less experienced than teachers of other subjects and more likely to hold limited certificates in that area or be teaching outside their areas of expertise.

Washington state adopted computer-science learning standards in 2016, but state education officials still are working on an implementation plan to guide teacher training and make more computer-science classes available to students. Groups like Washington STEM are working to expand access to computer science education. Clearly, there is much to do.

The state’s growing tech industry generates an estimated $36.4 billion in annual revenue and employs more than 313,000 technology-based workers. It is expected to keep growing an average of 3{18fa003f91e59da06650ea58ab756635467abbb80a253ef708fe12b10efb8add} annually, outpacing many other occupations, according to a December 2020 analysis from the Washington Student Achievement Council. They estimate the sector will have more than 69,000 job openings per year.

Washington students, families and companies all benefit when those well-paying jobs are filled by qualified local applicants. Introducing K-12 students to the basics of computing systems, networks, data analysis, programming and other core concepts is an important step in closing the gap between workers’ skills and employer need.